Isadora Duncan. Wannabe Syndrome. And Scarves.

Me. Many years ago. A high school corridor.

I’m stopped by two girls, vaguely familiar, with notebooks in hand.

Brunette and blonde.

Ready to write.

“We’re doing a story for the school paper,” the brunette tells me. “Can we ask you a question?”

“Yeah, sure!”

“Cool! What famous person do you wish you could trade places with?”

The answer comes quickly. “Isadora Duncan,” I say.

A flash of uncertainty crosses their faces, so I elaborate.

“You know, the famous dancer? She died a long time ago.”

Suddenly the blonde girl remembers who Isadora is.

“Oh, that’s a good answer.”

“Yes,” I agree.

Because Isadora was one heck of a woman. And did I ever want to be like her.

Well, not the part about her family tragedies. Or the public drunkenness. And especially not the freak accident that caused her death, when her long, flowing scarf got caught in the wheel of her car.

But the rest of it? You bet.

The monumental creativity!

The adventure!

The inspiration!

The freedom!

My 17-year-old self found it oh-so-very enchanting.

Me. About ten years ago. Reading a book.

Nope. I didn’t become Isadora. But I did eventually find my way to Robert Johnson, and he helped me figure out my fascination with her.

In Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche, Johnson illuminates the shadow, that repository of unacceptable personal characteristics (like greed and hate) that we find every which way to deny about ourselves. And he makes the case for why we need to own these orphaned parts: because the alternative–unconsciously projecting the dark stuff thither and yon–does not make for a whole and happy life.

But wait. There’s more. As it turns out, the shadow houses some really good qualities, and in Johnson’s words:

It is possible to project from the shadow the very best of oneself onto another person or situation. Our hero-worshiping capacity is pure shadow; in this case, our finest qualities are refused and laid on another. It is hard to understand, but we often refuse to bear our noble traits and instead find a shadow substitute for them.

That was my light bulb moment with Isadora. I finally got it.

I’d been unconsciously projecting some of the best of me onto her. In fact, she’d been holding it for a long time. And maybe it was time to start taking it back.

So began the externalization of my inner Isadora. It was an invitation to reclaim my artistry: to create a business, a garden, a home. To play with color and fabric, return to performing, begin writing, and bring expressive arts into my work with clients.

And I mustn’t forget the scarves. Most with a story all their own. They would become the touchstones, a way to remember that taking back my projections is a life-long journey.

You and me today. Having this conversation.

Now, I wear a scarf almost every day. A tip of my hat to Isadora. Or better yet, a flip of my fringe.

In the ensuing years, I’ve learned a lot about shadow and hero-worship. And I’ve gotten pretty good at helping my clients explore and unearth their own versions of Isadora.

Certainly, most people mightily resist. Yet, when they’re in a kind and supportive relationship with someone who cares enough about them to acknowledge and accept all of their shadow–both light and dark–the process becomes a little easier.

But nothing’s ever simple, right? So here’s the most important lesson I’ve learned about taking back our projections: what can be classified as hero-worship or idolizing or pure adoration during our younger days often veers uncomfortably toward envy and jealousy as we mature.

Envy? Jealousy? Yes, we got ’em. And they often house the adult version of Wannabe Syndrome. A strange twist on hero-worship. And you know what? That’s OK.

Gasp! Did I just say it’s OK to feel jealousy and envy? Isn’t envy one of the seven deadly sins or something?

I don’t know too much about that. But I will tell you that when clients begin to unpack these emotions that they suppose represent only the dark and flawed parts of themselves, I always want to help them look underneath to see what light might be shining there. To sift through what’s about them and what’s not about them.

Because let’s face it, life is complicated. People do grow weary. Sometimes bitter. We compare ourselves to others and project our desires onto them. And as a result, envy and jealousy may emerge.

Now, I’m not recommending a steady diet of envy or jealousy. I’m sure you understand instead that I’m talking about acceptance. Seeing underneath. Working through.

And holding these parts of ourselves as gently as we would a tiny kitten or a budding rose.

Just you and me now. Enlarging the conversation.

I’d love to hear your take on this.

Care to share an experience with hero-worship? Admiration? Envy? Jealousy?

What bright qualities have you or do you project onto other people or situations?

14 thoughts on “Isadora Duncan. Wannabe Syndrome. And Scarves.

  1. Hi Patty.
    You’ve reminded me of a book I started reading last year called “Meeting the Shadow.” It speaks to exactly the points you’ve illustrated. In fact here’s a quote from the back cover: “These forbidden feelings and behaviors arise from the dark, denied part of ourselves–the personal shadow.” Funny how reading a book about the shadow can turn on so many lights 🙂

    Today I listened to a 20-minuted talk by Brene Brown. It is found on and is called “The Power of Vulnerability.” I highly recommend listening to this — it’s fantastic! What I took away from listening to it was “We are here to feel connected; that is how we are wired. To feel connected we need to be ‘seen’ and to be seen, we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.”

    Our shadow is where we’ve hidden all those parts of ourselves that cause us to feel vulnerable. We numb vulnerability. I *really* appreciate people who can show up fully as themselves, and not try to make everything “nice” all the time. It makes me feel that I’m trusted.

  2. I loved this post and had to comment. Just truly inspiring that you are finding your expression of your whole self in your creativity. Patience and practice seem to be the key – and realizing that this is a journey with no end point, so you have to make the most of all the stuff that happens to us. Keep thriving in 2011, Patty! You rock

  3. Amazing! I used to love reading Isadora’s story in the only young girl’s magazine allowed in our house. Her movements, her scarves, so much freedom to invent something new, even herself!! WOW!! Can’t believe you’re talking about her!
    I’ve discovered the true power of the shadow through EFT. Each time something dark shows I now know that it’s got something to teach me and is asking to be released. It’s fascinating.
    Do not envy anyone. We all share what we’ve come here to share. And you’re so good at it!
    Thank you!

  4. Hi Patty! This was wonderful! And you hit on something I’ve never quite understood – this obcession with idolizing – screaming fans, fan clubs, people who faint meeting their “idol” – autograph seekers – the whole scene. While I’ve admired certain people throughout my life, I’ve never been caught up in this.

    My dad was quite the character (sometimes too crass for his own sake, haha) but when I was a teen watching tv and moaning how I wanted to be somebody I was watching, he’d tell me “Suzy, they go to the bathroom just like you do! They aren’t better than you!” (I cleaned this up, mind you)

    Now have I ever envied? Hell yes. But his words do haunt me so I’ve never gotten too carried away with this. I was on the Oprah show in 2003 and her “people” came to me in the green room to explain the rules and how I was to ONLY speak if spoken to, answer directly when asked a question and never this, never that. After a few minutes of this nonsense I said “Just Who in the hell do you think you are talking to? I was asked to come here because of who I am and what I am doing and I cannot BE anyone other than myself, thank you!”

    They were aghast and trembled when I met Oprah (kinda funny!) and I opened with “Hi Oprah, love the shoes!” I did just fine being me and wasn’t the least bit awestruck.

    Why this star struck worship stuff exists I frankly do not get. We are ALL special beings – some just have more money or exposure on tv. I give respect and admiration to many many people and don’t waste my time being me to wish I were them. Call me crazy but at this age/stage of my life anything else is counterproductive to the time I have left here.

  5. Hi Patty,

    I just have to say your internet presence is strung together with much more than spit and baling wire. Love. Compassion. Care.

    Who I wanted to be was Peggy Flemming or Janet Lynn. To be graceful and balanced. I was never a very good ice skater. Maybe that’s why I’m a yoga teacher ?

    Envy – yes, that creeps in. I see what everyone esle is doing and how much better they’re doing it and I get stuck in the thought pattern of “why bother?” or “who would want to read what I write anyway?” And somehow I’m reminded to re-focus on what I do best and keep doing it. And it’s ok if others are doing something similar and saying the same thing but with their experience tied in.

    I admire the talents of others – people who write good music, play an instrument (and props to those who can play and sing at the same time!) I admire great writers and sappy romance writers. I admire people who run marathons or just run. I admire and appreciate their talents and gifts.

    Maybe my admiration veers towards a bit of envy…but like you, I somehow steer my ship back to my own talents and gifts – for someone else may be admiring what I offer as well.

    Be well,

  6. Hi Patty,

    I saw this made for tv movie back in the 80’s probably (when I watched a ton of tv). It was about Isadora Duncan. The last scene with the scarf freaked me out with scarfs. I too wear them, but make sure not to have them dangling in any weird way, so they don’t get caught …

    Haven’t read that book about shadows, but have a different one by Debbie Ford that seems to be saying something similar.

    A world with out light would be in darkness and a world without darkness would have no light — we can’t see things unless they have both light and shadow. I completely agree that many of our best features have retreated into the shadows, often in school which is one weird scene the longer I contemplate the entire set-up. Until I ventured into my shadows, I didn’t find my disobedient side. I dragged her out and now things feel so much better!

    Great post. Pretty blue horse. G.

  7. Oh, Patty, you know you’re not supposed to even mention jealousy, or you’ll generate a jealous quantum energetic vibration! 🙂 What you said about our shadows manifesting first as dreams of what we’d like to be, and then bitterness that we’re supposedly not that, is a tragedy I keep seeing every day as well, and one that I’m sure I’m unwittingly playing a part in. Very insightful stuff.

  8. Oh my just lost my long comment. Sort version:
    Yes I feel jealous of other bloggers and writers. It’s normal. I like the way you tell us to hold these feelings gently.

    We never know what it took for people to get where they are. We don’t know what their purpose is. We often miss our own gifts when we focus on another’s.

    I love that when we admire someone we project our light side. I want to do more time doing that!

  9. I sort of got lost in the images here, Patty. I have a fascination for fabrics. I have a lot of scarves and wear one everyday but I haven’t fully explored it as an outlet of creativity. So you’ve inspired me to visit my local fabric store. And the image of that galloping horse, that’s a beauty.

    Our shadowy side? I’m convinced it holds hidden gems. I like to nose around in there and suprise myself with what I find.

  10. Patty,

    I like your willingness to take on the “darker” sides of our psyches:~) I think you absolutely right about owning the shadow sides that come out in envy or jealousy. I think our shadow sides can teach us a lot about ourselves, if we listen to them.

    I remember a time when I was very jealous of one blogger. She wrote, and still writes, such beautiful posts. It’s like every word is a piece of art. I would read her posts and wish I could write like that. Over time and visiting her site frequently, I realized I was also learning from her about how I wanted to write. I didn’t need to copy her, but rather to appreciate what she had to teach me. Now, when I feel jealous about what someone has said or written, I ask myself, “What’s the lesson here?”

    • Hi Davina, Phil, Maryse, SuZen, Peggy, Giulietta, Chris, Tess, Belinda, and Sara: Wow! All I can say is wow. I am the luckiest blogger ever, to have such a thoughtful, talented group of people leaving comments that expand the subject further and make it come to life. Thank you so much for your insights and reflections. They’re a true joy to read.

  11. Patty –
    This is a fascinating post for me on several levels. My “other mother” has mentioned Duncan several times of late sending my daughter information about her. I had never heard of her myself. Second, I never went in for the celebrity thing, but I do have a tendency to (and I am just realizing this) cast my own qualities on to others believing my qualities to be theirs and then jading myself and falling short. Interesting realization on my part as it is really like I am competing with myself – not seeing my own bright side or allowing myself to see them as they really are.

    (I would love your thoughts on my post today when you have a chance)

    • Hi M – Fascinating insight on your part about competing with yourself, and how confusing all this projection stuff is. Thanks!

  12. Dear Patty,

    My name is Samuel and I chanced upon this while researching about Isadora Duncan’s scarves. Being fascinated with the genius of Isadora Duncan myself, I certainly gained new insights from reading your post.

    I would like to ask about Isadora’s scarves. The scarves in the pictures you posted here are beautiful. Would Isadora have worn scarves with these paintings/patterns on them?

    Having always idolized Isadora (I am a dancer myself), I have written a drama/dance play that uses the personification of dance as a main symbolic feature, and will be directing and performing in it. I plan to use Isadora’s scarves as the main feature.

    The most research I could get suggests that her scarves were (1) very long, (2) made of silk, (3) hand-painted, (4) one article mentioned a white scarf, (5) another mentioned an iridiscent scarf. However, it seems that most dance performances portray Isadora with plain silk scarves.

    What is your take on that?


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